Sinauli's desire to be a visible centre of our heritage must not be overlooked
Archaeologists and historians may be celebrating the recent copper-bronze era excavations at Sinauli village in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, suggesting the presence of a warrior class of inhabitants and most importantly chariots for the first time as proof of our evolved civilisation. But villagers now want the ASI to not remove the relics of the Mahabharata era, build a site museum and boost tourism itself. Much in the nature of Egyptian and Harappan finds. While site museums are necessary in terms of establishing the larger historical context of the find and enhance its instructional value, they also connect the locals to their past and make them equal partners of a living heritage and keen participants in its conservation. Most importantly, they mirror the past of a geographical region and lend it character. Incidentally, that is the larger purpose of a site museum, many of which, like Nalanda, have attained world heritage status. And by encouraging a sense of belonging, site museums have always generated a subsidiary local economy.
Unfortunately, setting up one has its attendant problems. First there is an issue of connectivity and local infrastructure which have to be developed enough to attract visitors, particularly in areas which are not in the periphery of big cities. Second, there has to be a standardised code for classification and preservation of antiquities at all sites, for which some expertise may have to be para-tropped. Far too often, heaps of relics have been piled up at many site museums without dating, labelling or grouping according to timelines. This lack of sorting compromises artefacts, some of which need to be kept in temperature-controlled areas or risk degradation. A lot of scientific management is absent even at big museums, so it would be foolhardy to expect compliance at smaller centres. For long Haryana Tourism has aggressively promoted Kurukshetra as a link of the Mahabharata circuit but it has yet to become a vibrant or a viable tourist attraction. And for all the private patronage of royal trusts in Udaipur and Jaipur, the Alwar state museum, with some rare artefacts, scroll paintings and colonial era rarities, is in disarray, used by local school students and drifters when it deserves wider publicity. Funding is another problem for continuous upkeep.
However, to keep any museum relevant in modern times, the locals and visitors should be made part of an interactive experience and engagement. So while locals should be taught to identify their site specialities, skilled about disseminating nuggets of history, used as communicators of their ancient legacy and first allowed to be the PR bridge to the outside world, they can do what no guidebook can do, humanise history. Meanwhile, the visitors should be offered improved access, interactive platforms, audio-visual experiences and digital devices as an additional worthwhile experience. For example, China has invested so much on site development for its Terracotta Warriors complex near Xian, with graphic story-telling, exhibits and live workshops, complete with a developed tourism economy that it has become more important than the city itself. Sinauli’s wishes should not be overlooked from an elitist standpoint but accommodated from that very perspective.
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